A sympathy note isn't a card, or a letter. It's a brief note to someone under stress, expressing your feelings and support.
Sympathy notes should be brief but meaningful. This is one of the few types of personal writing where there is a real etiquette involved:
If you're writing a personal sympathy note to a friend:
If you're writing a sympathy note on behalf of a group, like co workers or an employer:
This tends to be a business style process, usually a card, with a sympathy note in the form of a letter on behalf of the group or employer.
But it shouldn't be a mere bureaucratic process. In this case, brevity and sincerity is enough. A few lines will do, but make sure they're not too dry or card-like themselves. The idea is to add extra levels of content in the support.
Check with the employer if there's anything the manager would like to say or add to the sympathy note. (In some cases management will send their own note or card, in others they'll want to know why they didn't see the card or note before it was sent.)
Examples of a personal sympathy note:
We were so terribly sad to hear about…. I'm almost speechless, but you know we're here for you, whenever you need us. If there's anything at all we can do, let us know.Signed,
Please accept our sincere and deepest sympathies for ….. You know you can count on our support and help, so get in touch when you're able.Signed,
You'll notice that these notes are purely functional, no extraneous content. The content is basic, and sympathy notes aren't ornaments. Just pick a nice card for the more eloquent language.
Example of a group or employer sympathy note:
On behalf of the management and staff at …. Please allow me to express our deepest and most sincere sympathies to you and your family concerning….., our friend and colleague.
You may also be assured that we will assist you in every way possible in managing any matters arising from this sad event.
Please contact …… at your convenience to discuss any needs you may have.
This is actually a business letter, but importantly it's not phrased or written like a business letter. The format is actually necessary, because it's an acknowledgement of the situation, and any family entitlements from the employer.
The translation:We will assist with the business side.
The card from the other employees will do the rest of the work providing emotional support.
Note: In any group, personal notes from individuals are often a good idea, so closer friends can send their own personal notes with the group card.